Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dealing With Mobsters...

The following sequence is from the Golden Age storyarc, part 2 (vol.2 #67), by Bendis and Maleev. The story is about the former kingpin of New York city, how he came to power, how he was overthrown by a young Daredevil and how in the present day he attempted to get vengeance.
In the second part of Bendis' run, after an important event like the self-proclaiming of Daredevil as kingpin of Hell's Kitchen, this story came up as a fill-in, in comparison, but it is a neat tale, with homages to Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in America, in which different artistic styles are used to illustrate the three different timelines of the narration.

After the intervention of Daredevil, the crime lord of New York Alexander Bont is having some troubles with justice, and is in need of a lawyer, preferably a newly-graduated, fresh of college and needing a job, who would defend him without creating too many problems. He goes to Nelson & Murdock (and this is also perfectly coherent with the intent of imitating the silver age style of the book, since all evildoers always ended up turning to the protagonists' law firm, back in those days).
Unfortunately for him, Matt unexpectedly refuses to accept his case:

(Wow, isn't it true that nowadays people don't care about conflicts of interest).
Bont, being the criminal big cheese he is, is not used to receive a no for an answer. But Matt is adamantine. They cannot defend him in court because they're already representing some Hell's Kitchen citizens in a lawsuit against him. You can imagine if realizing that those lawyers are actually his adversaries doesn't piss him off even more:

Figgy. Foogy. Fiji. (!)

Man, Foggy timidly correcting a man like that (a pissed off man like that, on the top of that) on how to properly say his nickname is a priceless image.
Anyway, not only Matt doesn't flinch, he even slyly tries to take advantage of the situation for his other clients:

If you're giving me a dirty look in hopes of intimidating me... I'd like to now remind you that I am blind.

Heh. Take that.
Through Matt's character, Bendis here points at a thing that is almost always true. Mobsters and the like can try to be scary and intimidating as much as they want, but deep down, they're just poor idiots.

Bont seethes with fury at Murdock's stinging mot juste! And when even mild mannered Foogy err... Foggy Nelson indirectly participates to the mockery, he snaps. And goes into full "C-list gangster threats" mode:

Notice how, confronted with all that crap that guy's throwing at him, Matt keeps a straight face. One who doesn't know him would wonder if it's because he's blind or rather because he's just badass enough not to give a damn about what even the chief gangster of his city has to say to him.
But Matt is not done with verbally raping his interlocutor yet:

[...] it is apparent to me, from this angle, that you drink in the afternoon. And my professional advice to you would be to stop doing that as you are about to go to federal court.

Holy s%*#. If that's not a complete ownage we got there, I honestly don't know what it is. Bendis' run is really rich with such dry humor moments, and this is one of my favourites. Among the other things, it also shows that Matt is fearsome to have as opponent not only in his guise of costumed crimefighter, but also (maybe even more so) in his civilian role of lawyer. Not to mention that the sequence shows him in the beginning of his career, long before he became one of the most respected legal eagles of his fictional universe.

A short time after this encounter, thanks also to the meddling of a DD still in his yellow duds, Bont is arrested and sentenced to jail. He would get out of there only years later, at the age of 93.
And with that (as a fellow DD fan pointed out to me once) we learn that during the course of his career Daredevil has taken out of commission not one, but two crime overlords. Not too shabby, considering that certain other superheroes - in other comic book universes - have been trying unsuccessfully to do the same with crazed clowns for seventy years now.

Thoughts on Lady Bullseye

So, it seems that with issue #111, coming out this next September, a new villain will debut in the world of Daredevil. We could summarily describe Lady Bullseye (this is the name of the new character) as a female version of Bullseye, historical nemesis of our hero, but as is evident by the pictures that have accompanied the announcement, and by Brubaker's words, there is more to her than meets the eye.

According to what Brubaker said in an interview with Newsarama, the new character of Lady Bullseye originates from an idea that Brubaker and his colleague Matt Fraction (co-writer of Immortal Iron Fist) were toying with one year ago.
The character is largely inspired by the protagonist of a classical manga by Kazuo Koike, Shurayuki Hime, or Lady Snowblood. Lady Bullseye is oriental themed, and - like Lady Snowblood - a mysterious, deadly beauty.
Brubaker also said that apart from the name and theme, Lady Bullseye is somehow linked to Bullseye and that she knows of his position in the Thunderbolts (the state-sanctioned team of ex-villains tasked to apprehend unregistered superheroes, like DD). Better yet, she decided to take up that nome de guerre also because Bullseye is currently in that position.
It is still not exactly clear if she has a personal grudge against Daredevil, or whether she will be a friend or a foe to the hero of Hell's Kitchen. Brubaker said that "she's really self-obsessed" and has hinted to a complex background story for her.

Costume and appearance are to be credited to Marko Djurdjevic, current cover artist of the creative team, who was told to combine Bullseye's original theme and give it a Japanese look (a most happy choice, in my opinion, since Djurdjevic is a real genius at illustrating concepts).
What the German illustrator came up with consists in a neat looking skin tight suit with an asymmetrical Bullseye pattern, an eye mask with a simple decoration and a small bullseye painted in the middle of her forehead.

It isn't yet clear if the colours will be simply black and white or, as shown in the cover art of #110 above, burgundy and white.

Some of the preview pictures released, as well as the cover to #112, clearly show Lady Bullseye being allied with the Hand, also hinting at a leadership position among them.
This makes me wonder if it was she, and not Elektra, who was the person who back in DD #88 the Hand swordsman was referring by "my mistress" after having saved Foggy Nelson from the mobsters. At the time, in fact, the Hand was lead by a Skrull impersonating Elektra, and if you ask me it's a little unlikely that this Skrull would've given a damn about Foggy's safety. Lady Bullseye, on the other hand, could've been leading her own faction of ninjas and be interested in keeping Foggy alive for more obscure reasons (hey, what do you know? Maybe she just fancies the Fogster. I know for certain that to some women he's irresistible).

What could her ties with the male version of the character be? Or their relationship? Well, given that Bullseye has always been a little obsessed with his reputation as hired assassin, and has never liked competition in his... um... field, I don't think he will be too happy with the appearence of a new assassin carrying his name and insignia. One of the preview pictures in particular seems to confirm this:

Add to this the fact that Bullseye is currently in New York with his Thunderbolt teammates, on missions to try and apprehend folks like Spider-man and Moon Knight, and I think that we might have a showdown between "the old" and "the new" sooner than we expect.

As for her ties with Daredevil and Bullseye's past, the only thing that comes to mind, linking together Bullseye and Japan, is Matt's trip to that country in O'Neill's run, during which Bullseye was recovered by Lord Dark Wind and had his skeleton reinforced with adamantium.

Regarding her powers and abilities, one can safely expect that - like Bullseye - she has the uncanny ability of never missing with throwing weapons. Probably she will mostly be seen favoring oriental themed weapons, like shurikens or kunai daggers (even if I suspect that anything she can throw can become a deadly weapon in her hands, like, let's say... pointy hairpins).
Also, given that Bullseye himself is a formidable fighter, in peak physical condition, capable to hold his own against both Elektra and Daredevil at the same time, I think it is safe to say that Lady Bullseye will also be excellent at unarmed, hand-to-hand combat, possibly even deadlier than Bullseye, if we factor the ninja/Japanese martial artist background into it.
Indeed, it looks like Daredevil will be in for a hell of a fight.

Readers' reactions to the announcement of this debutant character can be divided in two categories. Some, especially those who aren't currently following the book, are quite disappointed by this, dismissing the character as an umpteenth repetition of the theme of the female assassin, that has been used quite a bit in the past of Daredevil (with Elektra, Typhoid Mary and more recently, Echo). Another common criticism is that the idea of a female version of a male character has been used ad nauseam in the past, or even in the present (as shown by the new female Loki or by the latest heir to Kraven the Hunter's legacy).
Most of the fans of the book, on the other hand, while well aware of the above problems, trust Brubaker's skills as a narrator, and are waiting to see how the story will develop.

Personally, I find this new character very intriguing. I like the concept behind it, that of a deadly female assassin. I see no repetitivity in it, since a character like Daredevil, with its premises, its background and its story has naturally to deal with assassins, ninjas and beautiful, lethal women. I think that Lady Bullseye will be unique, just as the previous women he has faced have been, each in her own way.
Also, it appears that the storyline that will mark her debut will include a lot of action and fighting, also involving Daredevil's allies Iron Fist and Black Tarantula. It will be a nice change of pace, after the staticity of the current issues. And I'm sure the creative team will astound us readers.
Last, I really dig her appearence. Everything of it. The suit with big, off-centered bullseyes, the Japanese look, hairstyle, the sense of physical perfection and badass-ness emanating from all of it.

I can't wait to see how it will all look in the fluid style of Clay Mann (the artist chosen to do the art for issue #111) and what will the new storyline be about.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Daredevil's Centrific Feats #1 - Snatching Arrows

In the following panels, taken from DD vol.1 #199, written by Denny O'Neil and penciled by William Johnson, we find Matt Murdock in Japan, running through some snowy woods, in company of a delicious Asian girl (Yuriko Darkwind, the future Lady Deathstrike), pursued by the henchmen of an evil crimelord with a taste for medieval japanese stuff.

- The lord Dark Wind's archers. We must run...
- From bows and arrows?

Tell her, Matt. A titular superhero doesn't run from antediluvian weapons, no matter what corny name the guy who sent them has chosen for himself.

Upon this sight, the three archers, being honourable and loyal - as convenient to guys dressed in japanese medieval clothes - but not stupid, turn their heels and flee. Presumably to their mamas.

The panel is then followed with the memorable exchange between Yuriko and Matt, which gives the name to this series of entries that will deal with the most astonishing feats performed by Daredevil during his career.

- You are... is the word
- Sensational. Or terrific. Anyway thanks.

F#@%, yeah.
Also, this series of entries is dedicated to my friend Alessandro...

... per cui, attenzione.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Preposterous Plot Points #5 - "The Make Up of Make Up Artists"

Here we go with another update to the renowned "Preposterous Plot Points" series! In this installment, we'll talk about shape-shifting.

It is a power that has returned en vogue recently with Secret Invasion, the latest Marvel event dealing with the invasion of Earth by Skrulls, a dreaded alien race with the power of multiple chins and shape-shifting.
The event has been going for something like three months and it is a real mine of preposterous plot points in itself. However, since this event doesn't involve DD the slightest (thank god), it is not my role to comment on those.
Instead we'll now see how the idea of changing one's shape was intended back in the year 1970, when full scale invasions of green pointy-eared aliens were way ahead to come.
In DD vol.I #67, Daredevil is in Los Angeles, keeping an eye - pardon, a radar wave - on his beloved Karen, who had become a rather appreciated movie starlette.
By coincidence, the director of her current film calls her when Matt is at her home, expressing her his desire to have the real Daredevil appear in their movie, which already features the now reformed costumed criminal Stuntmaster.
So, after a while, there he is: in the middle of a movie set, in his red longjohns, with the chance of staying close to the woman he loves.

Notice how the 70's DD doesn't give a rat's ass that he's there, vainly fantasizing about the show-biz while his help could be needed elsewhere (to stop a robbery, or save a kitten etc.).
However, a menace is lurking in Los Angeles. An old foe seeking revenge.
Unaware of it, the Stuntmaster takes a break during the filming, and goes to his trailer.

The old foe is revealed! It's none other than Stilt-man!

That's right. Stilt-man has learned that DD is appearing in the movie they're filming and has sneaked inside the Stuntmaster's trailer, waiting for the opportunity to strike at his mortal enemy. I wonder if he put on his armor before or after entering inside. I hope it's the latter, because I can't imagine anyone wearing what looks like one of those spacesuit worn by extraterrestrials in pulp magazines sneaking inside a private trailer unnoticed. Especially because moving with a metallic armor of that sort must make a hell of noise.

Unless a scene like this occurred:

Security guard: Who the heck are you? What are you doing? This is Stuntmaster's private trailer.
Hey, cool down, man. I'm just...
Security guard
Yeah, yeah. Look, only staff members are allowed in here, buzz off.
Relax, buddy. I'm appearing in scene in ten minutes, the one where the zombie aliens from Mars abduct Miss Page. Stuntmaster told me to come here and get him his... err... theatrical make-up kit. You're just wasting our time here, and you know how the director hates that.
Security guard
Oh, uh... yeah. Sorry. My job is to keep out intruders, you know.

And so, while the hapless Stuntmaster is distracted...

..Kerwack! No, not the pioneer of the beat generation, the onomatopoeia of an armored fist impacting on cervical vertebrae.
Note to aspiring villains: When you're about to blindside an opponent attacking him from behind, it's preferable not to raise your voice.

The villain ties up and gags the now unconscious Stuntmaster, all the while describing aloud what he's doing, just in case he forgets some detail. As he so gently tells the reader, his plan is to disguise as the Stuntmaster, and use this opportunity to attack DD by surprise and defeat him in front of everyone.
The part of managing to pass for the Stuntmaster would theoretically be pretty easy, since he could just hide his facial traits with Stuntmaster's helmet and goggles. Yet, our villain decides to make it unnecessarily complicated:

So, Stilt-man grabs a box of theatrical make up and starts working on his "chaneyesque" disguise (obviously not before having removed his headplate, as he unnecessarily reminds himself aloud).

I wonder if the readers of those days were familiar with the meaning of the word chaneyesque, by the way.

I don't know if make up alone can alter a person's facial features to the point of making him look like another individual. Even if it does, wouldn't that require a ridicoulous amount of time, during which the rest of the troupe could get suspicious and go search for Stuntmaster, making Stilt-man's plan fail? Also, why does he need to look at the picture of the Stuntmaster? He has the real thing right there, in the closet, unconscious and tied up like a hog.

This plot point of Stilt-man disguising himself with theatrical make up takes up nearly three pages of stretched logic and bad guy monologue, but here is the result:

Of course, there's the tiny particular that the voice and physical appearence are still the same. Maybe that would go unnoticed to a normal person (very unlikely), but certainly, a superhero who is blind and has the remaining senses superhumanly heightened will not be fooled by a facial disguise. Right?
No. The disguise evidently works even if you cannot see it:

The meticulous work of our villain, by the way, is only useful for another panel. After that, the helmet and goggles he wears make everything he went through to do that utterly unrelevant. And after a couple of pages, anyway, he has already revealed himself as Stilt-man and started battling Daredevil.
Also, the way he suddenly gets rid of the costume and the facial make-up makes me wonder why he didn't outright attack Daredevil without putting up all this charade.

Certainly, Roy Thomas, writer of this issue, must have had a real fascination with the supposed virtues of "theatrical make up" if he used this idea again in the very following issue (which you can read about in the blog entry that has inspired this one).

That's all folks. I don't think there's need I tell you how the battle between Stilt-man and DD ended, so what else to say? See you next time for another episode of "Preposterous Plot Points".